Once it has become quite clear that Lavinia isn't going to die, Mary sets a date with Richard Carlisle. They marry at the beginning of June, before anyone quite has time to protest it; the ceremony is Lavinia's first great outing. She cannot quite savor her release from the sickbed -- not here, sitting at Matthew's side, very carefully not looking at his face. (She knows what she will find there, and would rather not see it.) She watches Mary instead -- Mary in white, smiling with perfect elegance and no joy. It makes Lavinia's heart ache. Sir Richard's face is full of true pleasure. It seems right, somehow, that he is the only one of them triumphant enough to let real feeling onto his face. As they are joined under the eyes of God, Mary's own eyes wander, briefly, to Lavinia. For a dizzy, daft split-second, Lavinia feels sure this will be enough to stop her heart.
"Oh, Matthew," Lavinia murmurs, once the celebrations have come to a close and they are on their way out to the car.
He pays her the respect of not pretending nothing is wrong, for once. Instead, he says, in quiet words meant only for her (for he does trust her like he doesn't quite trust anyone else -- not even Mary -- especially not Mary), "I only wish it could have been someone better. Better than him."
"If anyone can withstand him, it's Mary."
"She shouldn't have to withstand him."
"Perhaps it won't always be that way." She loops her arm through his. He pats her hand absently, as if they've been married fifty years already. "Feelings change."
"God, I hope so." They pause a moment, as if they've made some silent pact to enjoy the evening air. "She did this for us," he says then.
"I know it," Lavinia answers. "And I intend to spend my life making it up to her as best I can."
"Darling," Matthew says, as if this is any sort of answer -- it will serve, with his voice soft and fond and faintly surprised like that. He kisses her cheek, and his closeness leaves her oddly calm. She is struck by that feeling again, that fifty-years-married feeling, and wonders if she has grown out of him without realizing. Her thoughts wander back to Mary; they became quite good friends during Lavinia's Orphean journey out of death. Lavinia knows very well that it was mostly guilt at first that spurred Mary's attentiveness -- guilt about the kiss she was never meant to see, and the sickness that trailed so neatly after it. But does it really matter where friendships begin, once true life has been breathed into them?
By the time she and Matthew have married, Mary is expecting. Lavinia reels at the news; Matthew spends the morning unrelentingly broody. Lavinia had never paused to imagine Mary as a mother, and has no idea at all what to make of the fact. When she joins Mary for tea at Haxby, just the two of them, she finds that her eyes keep wandering to Mary's abdomen, as if expecting some hello from the unborn -- and, at this point, thoroughly undetectable -- child.
"I'm sorry," Lavinia says, when Mary catches her and punishes her with one of those wry, you dear fool smiles. "It's just -- I'm still a bit shocked, is all."
They've fallen into the habit of being quite frank with each other; Lavinia has always suspected it is to make up for the years they spent tiptoeing around the idea of one another, never being quite honest enough.
"Believe me, you aren't the only one," Mary says, sitting down opposite her. "I spent my entire life being carefully groomed for the sacred twin duties of wifedom and motherhood, and I still hadn't entertained the possibility."
"You'll be a brilliant mother."
"You'll be a brilliant mother." Mary presses a hand to Lavinia's cheek, loose and sisterly in its affection. (Well, perhaps not sisterly, Lavinia amends, considering Edith.) "And you'd best get around to it soon, because I fully intend to mimic whatever you do."
"And -- is Sir Richard happy?"
"Sir Richard is ecstatic. He's not infected with the degree of heir fever that the Crawley men suffer, of course, but he's clearly caught a bit of it. Besides, I think he quite looks forward to having a child to spoil with all that hard-earned money. He tries his best with me, but I'm not nearly easy enough to please." Lavinia laughs a little, mostly because it relieves her to witness how Mary has softened when she speaks of her husband. Not much, but a little. Enough. "What did Matthew think?" Mary's face goes grim and old. Sometimes Lavinia wonders whether perhaps it was for the best, that Mary and Matthew could never quite find their way together. They always seem to make each other so tired.
"Not much," Lavinia says, "but he was rather stormy of countenance all morning."
"Ah." Mary grimaces. "I'm sorry."
"Don't apologize. A baby is joyous news, and he'll admit to it very soon, I'm sure. It's not his place, but I think he takes it quite to heart, whenever he's reminded that you and Sir Richard are -- man and wife."
Mary lifts her eyebrows. "Well, tell him he needn't worry on that count."
"I certainly will not," Lavinia says, quite zealously prim (perhaps she draws upon the Dowager Countess for inspiration, just a bit); she feigns a gasp that gets a true laugh out of Mary. Lavinia feels a little rush of proud delight, the way she always does when she can tell she's made Mary happy, truly happy. "So you--" She feels herself blushing, which is foolish; they're both married women, and what's more, they've turned their backs on polite silence; "--you don't mind all of that, then?"
"Mind? Quite the contrary. It's the only time we really get along."
At least Sir Richard is good for something, when it comes to Mary's happiness. Lavinia means to think only this and move on, but as she looks at Mary now -- stylishly dressed, glossy dark hair pulled back perfectly, face wry and smart and so lovely it hurts a little -- she cannot help but imagine, just for a flash, just for a second, what she might look like in Sir Richard's embrace. How she might move, and sound, and touch--
"Do you want more?" Mary says.
"What?" Lavinia says -- well, gasps a little, really. She feels inconveniently as if she's just been set on fire.
"Tea," Mary says, seeming to notice nothing. But her fingers do drum, unMaryish, against the teapot. "You're nearly out, and God forbid I neglect my duties as mistress of Haxby. What a pall it would cast upon the illustrious family name."
Lavinia nods faintly. "Yes. Please."